HomeClimate changeCan the Prime Minister deliver his climate pledges?

Can the Prime Minister deliver his climate pledges?

climate planThis post first appeared on BusinessGreen.

Many didn’t believe the Prime Minister would ever agree to make a pledge on climate change. Not in the middle of a general election. And not when Lynton Crosby was so busy getting any barnacles off the boat to ensure that nothing distracted from the long term economic plan. Colleagues inquired what we would do when he didn’t sign. Did we have we a backup plan?

But, in February he did sign, alongside his main political opponents. He did so without any of the wording being changed. He also gave his reasoning for doing so: “Climate change poses a threat not just to the environment, but also to poverty eradication abroad and to economic prosperity at home.”

It made a big impression. From Al Gore to Michael Howard, from Unilever to Aviva, the great and the good commented on why it was a welcome move. It was also global news. Stories in America, Canada and Australia were envious of our brand of conservatism, able to deal with climate change while still retaining its centre right values. My favourite was probably the piece in the Washington Post  which argued how tough it normally is “to get politicians from opposing parties to agree on the colour of the sky, much less the future of the planet.”

Risk that UK could punch below its weight in 2015
David Cameron committed to three pledges:  to seeking a fair, strong legally binding, global climate deal which limits temperature rises to below 2°C; to work across party lines to agree carbon budgets in accordance with the Climate Change Act; and to accelerate the transition to a competitive, energy efficient low carbon economy and to end the use of unabated coal for power generation.

It was an exciting moment. But now comes the hard part, to deliver on them. 2015 is the biggest year for climate change in a generation, but because it’s also a year when the new government is still finding its feet, there’s a risk the UK will punch below its weight at a crucial time.

A plan to succeed
With our NGO colleagues, we’ve put together a plan to avoid this.  To achieve a global climate deal at the UN climate conference at Paris in December will need the PM to raise sights at the this week’s G7 meeting, and the Chancellor will need to have it on his agenda when the world meets to discuss development financing in July. The Prime Minister will also need a senior sherpa working out of Number 10, to make sure that the UK is making the impact it should on these negotiations. In the end, he needs to find what his role is in achieving the outcome he wants from Paris. The Prime Minister can’t sit back and approve the work of friends such as Angela and Barack – he needs to influence what ambition looks like.

To achieve a good deal at Paris the UK can point to what it has done. The Prime Minister can make the case that getting our overall fossil fuels to zero by the middle of the century mirrors the commitment already made in the UK Climate Change Act. He can show how the UK’s generosity with global aid hasn’t stopped the country growing economically, supporting the case for climate finance to help the world’s poorest deal with climate change.

Energy efficiency more cost effective than solar
On the second pledge of delivering carbon budgets, things are trickier but possible to resolve if government returns to a  technology neutral approach to energy policy, and finds a new way to support energy saving.  The Conservative manifesto committed to making a million fuel poor homes more energy efficient by 2020. However, this is hardly more ambitious than the last Parliament and no solution is being offered for regular building stock. There appears to be a lower appetite for supporting insulation, which is understandable considering the failure of the Green Deal. The political fallout has led the government to question whether it’d be better to focus their efforts elsewhere. However, energy efficiency will remain the cheapest way to decarbonise and is likely to be more cost effective than solar until at least 2020.

The final question is how the government is going to deliver the third pledge and hasten the end of unabated coal? Investors know that coal plants without carbon capture and storage are on borrowed time. This is the one pledge that should deliver itself, but will be messy without greater clarity from government.  If the government sets a clear end date for unabated coal, the remaining coal plants can’t crowd out investment in other forms of power generation, including carbon capture and storage.

So the pledges require modest policy development but significant political investment. The PM’s appointment of Amber Rudd is a great move, but he will also need a clear negotiating strategy and a strong team in No 10 if he is to deliver on them.

A UK climate plan 2015: delivering the Prime Minister’s climate pledge is an initiative of CAFOD, Christian Aid, Green Alliance, Greenpeace, RSPB and WWF

Written by

Alastair joined Green Alliance in January 2012 as the senior policy adviser leading Green Alliance's Political Leadership theme. He manages the Climate Leadership Programme for MPs and joint advocacy work with the NGO community.